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Audit reveals U.S. security payment in southern Afghanistan may have gone to Taliban

WASHINGTON — Millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds may have been paid to Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan to provide security for a U.S. development project, a U.S. government audit has found.

The report, released Thursday by the inspector general of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said subcontractors hired to protect a development project near Jalalabad may have paid more than $5 million to local authorities who probably included Taliban militants.

Allegations often have been made about such payments, but the report is a rare investigation by the government into a specific case.

The audit examined payments for security under a $349 million contract awarded to a U.S. contactor, Development Alternatives Inc., for a small-scale infrastructure and community development project.

Because the Taliban is entrenched in the area and it is deemed too dangerous to be visited regularly by the contractor, Development Alternatives left it to local subcontractors to negotiate security arrangements with local authorities.

The report says local authorities in the region often demand a 20 percent "protection tax" in such circumstances. Under such deals, the Taliban will send security guards, with promises that they won't attack the subcontractors or their equipment, and won't try to halt the contract work, it said.

Often they will try to renegotiate the agreement just before the work begins, to further jack up the price, the report said.

Officials of U.S. AID and the contractor told the investigators that since the development work was taking place in a war zone they weren't directly monitoring, there was no way they could provide assurances that U.S. taxpayer money paid to subcontractors didn't end up in the hands of the insurgents.

If the Taliban demanded the typical 20 percent cut on the amount of money budgeted for security, as much as $5.2 million might have ended up in Taliban hands, the report said.

The auditors didn't propose ways to put controls on the spending. Instead, they recommended that the agency consider whether it was even wise to try to carry out work in such areas.

The report also found "indications of pervasive fraud" in Development Alternatives' project office in Jalalabad City.

The report said an Afghan employee was involved in several fraud schemes with other employees, centering on conspiracy to demand kickbacks from local subcontractors.

The employee had special ties of kinship or friendship with one of the project's subcontractors, who ended up with about 20 subcontracts.

The employees would provide details to favored subcontractors "on how much the project was worth, how much to bid on the project, what the project entailed, and where to inflate the prices in the bids," the report said.

Other developments in Afghanistan

SUPPLY BLOCKADE: Pakistan closed the most important supply route for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan after a coalition helicopter attack killed three Pakistani soldiers at a border post Thursday. NATO said its helicopters entered Pakistani airspace and hit a target only after receiving ground fire. A lengthy ban on supply trucks would place intense strain on the U.S.-Pakistani relationship and hurt the Afghan war effort. But that was seen as unlikely, as neither Islamabad nor Washington can afford a meltdown in ties at a crucial time in the 9-year-old war.

Opium: Afghanistan's opium production has fallen by almost half in 2010 — to 3,968 tons — due largely to the spread of a disease that damaged poppy plants, the U.N.'s drug agency said Thursday.

ATTACKS: Five NATO service members were killed Thursday in southern Afghanistan, the scene of heavy fighting as troops push into areas long controlled by the Taliban, the coalition said. Three died when a homemade bomb exploded and two were killed separately — one following an insurgent attack and another in an explosion.

Associated Press

Audit reveals U.S. security payment in southern Afghanistan may have gone to Taliban 09/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 30, 2010 11:00pm]
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